Food and Behaviour Research

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Schizophrenia, vitamin D, and brain development.

Mackay-Sim, A., Feron, F., Eyles, D., Burne, T., McGrath, J. (2004) Int Rev Neurobiol. 59 351-80. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here.


Schizophrenia research is invigorated at present by the recent discovery of several plausible candidate susceptibility genes identified from genetic linkage and gene expression studies of brains from persons with schizophrenia.

It is a current challenge to reconcile this gathering evidence for specific candidate susceptibility genes with the "neurodevelopmental hypothesis," which posits that schizophrenia arises from gene-environment interactions that disrupt brain development.

We make the case here that schizophrenia may result not from numerous genes of small effect, but a few genes of transcriptional regulation acting during brain development. In particular we propose that low vitamin D during brain development interacts with susceptibility genes to alter the trajectory of brain development, probably by epigenetic regulation that alters gene expression throughout adult life.

Vitamin D is an attractive "environmental" candidate because it appears to explain several key epidemiological features of schizophrenia. Vitamin D is an attractive "genetic" candidate because its nuclear hormone receptor regulates gene expression and nervous system development.

The polygenic quality of schizophrenia, with linkage to many genes of small effect, maybe brought together via this "vitamin D hypothesis." We also discuss the possibility of a broader set of environmental and genetic factors interacting via the nuclear hormone receptors to affect the development of the brain leading to schizophrenia.